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HomeSupernatural StoriesBlack Dog - Chapter 10

Black Dog - Chapter 10

By evening, Imogen had fallen into a doze in the chair by the fireplace, her nerves worn out, and Eli had vanished without a word. This left Verity practically alone, to examine her surroundings at her leisure. At the mantlepiece, she investigated the curious assortment of ornaments: a collection that ranged from ugly worthless knick-knacks to objects of considerable beauty and perhaps considerable value. Out of it all, one small vase caught her eye. It was dusty and had a ring of dirt inside the rim from where it had been used to hold flowers, but wiping off some of the dust revealed shimmering blues and greens like the sheen of a magpie's feathers. Verity turned the vase this way and that, to better admire the iridescent glaze, then surreptitiously turned it upside down to look for the maker's mark.

She was just puzzling over the meanings of the marks she'd found when a chill came over her, the hair on the back of her neck standing up, and she knew she was being watched. Ghosts. A house of this age would be unusual if it didn't have a dozen ghosts or more. She'd never been afraid of them, but they could be strange, the ones who stayed behind, and she never failed to feel an exciting little thrill of nerves when she first encountered a new one. She turned to see what was watching her and found Eli standing right behind her, staring suspiciously down at her from his great height.

"Oh!" Verity squeaked, nearly dropping the vase. "You shouldn't go around sneaking up on people like that!"

"Wasn't sneaking," he muttered defensively.

'Wasn't sneaking,' indeed! He'd come right up behind her without her hearing so much as one footstep. "How long were you standing there, you sneak?" she demanded, unnerved at having been taken by surprise like that while she'd been nosing through the old lady's possessions. He didn't answer. He'd been watching her a while; she could guess that. Did he think she was some common thief, was that it? She bridled at the thought, immediately replacing the vase on the shelf. "I don't steal," she announced angrily, only getting angrier when she realized that an honest person shouldn't feel the need to protest her innocence quite so loudly. But she'd never been a thief. Well, only once or twice.

"Eli, leave her be," Imogen murmured sleepily from her chair. "She's our guest; you don't need to watch her like that."

Nevertheless, Eli remained vigilant, not taking his eyes off Verity as he sat and drank his tea. She didn't appreciate being watched so closely by anybody, let alone this sullen man with his piercing grey eyes, and she flounced off up the stairs just to get away from him. For one horrible moment, she thought he might follow, but she heard no footsteps behind her. It would be best to have some time alone to think things through and decide -

"Oh!" she whirled round, remembering how silently he could move, but there was nobody there. She sat down by the door of the bedroom where Olivia lay and watched the stairs. She'd begun to have second thoughts about getting involved with Eli and the Lockwood family. Ghosts rarely caused her any real trouble, and while werewolves could be unpleasant creatures, Verity couldn't bring herself to be frightened of one who would be a dowdy shy girl twenty-five days out of twenty-eight. Eli, on the other hand… She was having difficulty making up her mind what he was. As much as she couldn't bear not knowing, the thought of admitting her ignorance by asking him directly was equally abhorrent. He looked too human. He was involved with werewolves. She couldn't get him to talk about himself at all, or anything much else, for that matter. She sensed a sort of weariness as if someone had piled far too many years into one person.

A cat appeared on the stairs, velvet black with bright yellow eyes. It looked up at her, curling the tip of its tail over in question, and mouthed a silent meow. Verity patted her knees, hoping the cat would come to her and she'd have some company that didn't suspect her of eyeing up the silverware, but three hesitant steps up the stairs the cat changed its mind and vanished. The feline residents of the house had been thrown into a panic when Eli had first dragged Olivia into the kitchen, followed by the wretched dog. Wolf, she corrected herself half-heartedly. Giles was a werewolf; he was just a little disappointing as werewolves went.

The corridor was silent as the grave and twice as dull. Verity thought of exploring what lay behind any of the several doors leading off it, but reluctantly decided against it when she realised what Eli and Imogen might think if they caught her at it. She would have to earn their trust - how tedious.

She returned to the living room. "She's still sleeping," she said, trailing off into a huge yawn. She stood in front of the big windows, looking out of the brightly lit house into the blue-black of night. In the quiet, she could hear the ghost of Imogen's watch ticking on her ghostly wrist.

"Sleeping, did you say?" Imogen looked up from the chair where she'd been dozing, a puzzled look on her face.

Verity shrugged. "Sleeping. Dead. You know what I mean."

"No," said Eli, turning a page of his newspaper. "There's a big difference, most times."

"Dead then - she's definitely still dead. Do you mind if I stay here again tonight, Imogen? If she wakes up, it'd be good to have someone here who's more here than you are. No offence intended."

"None taken, dear. But there's no need, Eli's here. Nothing to worry about." She settled back in her chair and closed her eyes again. Strictly speaking, ghosts had no need for sleep, but most found the habit of a lifetime hard to break.

Verity collapsed dramatically onto the sofa. Curiosities and excitement aside, she did need to sleep. Marmalade XIV jumped up onto her lap, purring as she scratched under his chin. "Aren't you a pretty kitty? Yes, you are." She looked up. "Do you like cats, Eli?"

"Only the dead ones." The living cats of the house had already displayed an almost deliberate tendency to irritate him, getting under his feet or jumping up on his lap when he was trying to read the newspaper. The ghost of Marmalade III, on the other hand, had curled up partly around and partly through his left foot, where she purred contentedly in just as real a way as her living descendant.

"So where did your friend Giles disappear to?"

Eli shrugged, still reading his paper. Then, belatedly, he answered. "Not my friend."

"He's a dog tonight again, I suppose? If we can believe what Grace tells us, that is. Shouldn't you be taking him out for walkies?"

Eli ignored her.

Verity hadn't known silence could be so thick, almost a tangible thing as if her ears were slowly filling with treacle. She'd hoped the new werewolf would have woken by now. "I made sure the door was locked, Imogen," she said, more for the sake of staving off that silence than anything. "The door to the room where we left Olivia, I mean. Is there anything we ought to have removed? In terms of furniture, that is. Grace said werewolves could get rather disorientated during their first transformation." No reply. "Imogen? Imogen!" she snapped.

"I'm tired, Verity." Imogen's voice sounded unusually quiet, not entirely present. "I feel very old and very tired. Please, do shut up or go home."

Verity pouted. "I'm only saying that if there's anything in there that you don't want smashed to bits by morning, this is your last chance."

"She can smash whatever she likes," said Imogen, "as long as she's quiet about it."

"Don't forget the bedsheets and the blankets. The curtains, too. They'll be shredded, most likely."

"Good. I never was happy with the decor in that room."

Verity listened for sounds of activity upstairs, imagining that any moment the werewolf might break free. Instead, the treacly quiet flowed back in, tempered only by the purring of cats, real and ghostly. Eli had started on the newspaper's crossword, scowling at it, pen scratching occasionally on newsprint. She found herself glad he'd decided not to go home, wherever that might be.

"Is the moon up yet?" she asked.

Eli glared at her over the newspaper. "Yes."

The sky was as blue as ink over the ominous black shapes of the trees. "I can't see it. How can you see it from where you are. You didn't even look out of the -"

"I don't have to see the moon to know where it is." He sighed in exasperation, giving the crossword puzzle in front of him such a black look that Verity half expected the paper to crumble into dust or start giving off smoke.

"Having difficulties, are you?" she asked.

"Major blood vessel, five letters," he growled, then added, "Got an R in it."

"Well, that's easy. It's obviously -"

"- Jaguar," Imogen finished, sleepily.

Verity blinked. "Jaguar?"

"The R's in the middle."

"As I was about to say: it's obviously 'aorta.'"

"Hmm." He wrote it in and gave the crossword a suspicious look. "Thought you might know that one." Then he folded the newspaper over, got up and walked to the door.

"Oh," Verity tried to jump up from her seat and found herself with a lapful of a very reluctant cat. "Are you going, then?"

He gave her an odd look and grunted an affirmative.

Verity sat back down again, trying to detach the cat clinging determinedly to the fabric of her skirt and the skin of her legs. "You could at least say goodbye."

Another odd look, as if she were a stranger on a train who'd suddenly started to ask inappropriate personal questions. "Goodbye," he said. And then he was gone.

Verity seethed. How dare he? Not that she was afraid to be left alone in the big old house, with a werewolf chained to the bed upstairs, and who knew how many ghosts. Verity didn't like to play the role of damsel in distress, and ghosts and monsters didn't scare her but felt it wrong on principle for a man to leave a young lady alone in such a place. Her earlier question - what was he? - had for a moment gone quite out of her thoughts.

At times, she found it hard to think of Eli as one of the dead at all. For example, she knew well enough that vampires adhered to an unspoken dress code, and Eli fell so short of the vampiric standard of elegance that she'd already come to the cast-iron conclusion that he couldn't be one of them. No self-respecting vampire would dress in such shabby old clothes. She didn't know if demons worried about their appearance when they took human form. She'd never actually seen one. If Eli was a demon, it seemed highly unlikely that he'd deign to spend all day in Imogen Lockwood's living room, reading boring local newspapers and drinking endless cups of weak, milky and disgustingly sweet tea (Verity had even tried being nice to him in her quest for information, and apparently made an adequate cup of tea). He was obviously not a ghost or a werewolf, and she didn't think he was a zombie, either. He looked human, more or less.

Sulkily, she shoved Marmalade XIV off her lap and strode off. Her footsteps rang loudly in the empty chambers as she stomped up their stairs, but she didn't care. If the ghosts didn't like it, they'd just have to live with it… or rather, not. They couldn't do anything much to her, besides, tell her off and give her disapproving looks. She paused at the door to Olivia's room. The thought of the heavy chain that held the werewolf made Verity bold, but the door was locked as per Grace's instructions, and Eli had the key. Verity scowled and gave the door a kick, before turning to head back downstairs.

Behind her, a crash shook the floorboards. The silence that followed stretched out like an eternity. Verity, not daring to look over her shoulder, strained her ears to catch any further noises. She cursed Eli, wishing fervently that he hadn't left. Then she cursed herself for volunteering to stay the night. What did she know about werewolves? She might have met plenty of ghosts, but the only werewolves she knew were the bitch Grace and her strange boy with the frightened eyes. She forced herself to turn around. The lock had held. Footsteps padded within the room, old floorboards creaking uneasily. In the dead of night, Verity swore she could almost hear the werewolf breathe. The links of the heavy chain clinked as they dragged across the bare boards.

"Imogen?" Verity whispered, as loud as she dared. The footsteps paused at the sound of her voice. "Imogen, I think it worked…" Another crash rattled the door in its frame, and Verity flinched. The werewolf howled, infuriated by her containment, the call fading to an angry whine. Grace had said the door would hold, but Verity was beginning to wonder why she'd ever even considered trusting the blonde werewolf. Grace had told them everything would work out since they'd had the good sense to call her, but now the moment of truth had arrived, and Grace was nowhere to be seen. Werewolves were not like the others Verity knew: they had one foot in the world of the living and one paw in the world of the dead, which made it hard even to guess where their loyalties lay. Verity knew she should have put her curiosity aside and walked away hours ago, perhaps enquiring after Olivia's health the next time she visited. She wanted to go home and forget all about it, but how would that look to the others? No, that simply wouldn't do. She'd go up to that little room on the second floor - that room would be safe at least.

The werewolf had quietened, accepting her fate for the night. Verity began to tiptoe towards the secret door at the far end of the corridor, but as soon as she moved, the werewolf slammed against the door, and Verity shrieked. The door held - just - but immediately a storm of furious barking started up on the other side. Each time Verity tried to take a step forward, past that door, her feet refused to obey. Instead, she turned and fled downstairs to the living room. She peered at Imogen still asleep in her chair, apparently undisturbed by the racket from upstairs. "Imogen?" Verity whispered, but got no answer. Upstairs, the werewolf quietened again. Verity settled into the cushions of the sofa, knees drawn up to her chest, facing another sleepless night.




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